Meet Avery Michaelson: Making climate change make economic sense
Climate change is a big issue, and small businesses may be wondering what their role is in addressing this crisis. Avery Michaelson, CEO and founder of UCapture, knows exactly what his role is: he’s developed a way for consumers to offset their carbon footprint, while helping businesses gain and retain loyal customers.
Climate change is an economic problem, not a scientific problem
“The topic of climate change is, of course, an enormous global issue that individuals, companies, and nations – at all levels – are trying to deal with. It’s a moral imperative, but there are challenges in getting there. Climate change is not really a science problem - it’s an economic problem. We know what we need to do to combat climate change - go carbon neutral - but as individuals and as a society, that’s a challenge, because it costs money,” Michaelson said.
Upon recognizing this, Michaelson developed UCapture, a green tech platform that’s combating climate change. “We’ve made it easy, fun and free for individuals to go carbon neutral,” said Michaelson. And they've done so by helping businesses increase loyalty, so it’s a win-win-win for consumers, companies, and the planet.
How UCapture works
UCapture is a technology solution that empowers individuals to build their own green economy. “Every time you make a purchase, you vote with your wallet,” said Michaelson. “We, as consumers, have the ability to reward companies for playing a part in climate change. The challenge for the companies is how to connect with eco-conscious consumers, how to get the marketing benefit of carbon offsetting and sustainability.”
"A company's number one objective is making money. We can get companies excited about carbon offsetting by making it a profitable thing. But how can you make it profitable? You show them that they can attract and retain customers through sustainability. UCapture is that link."
Looking at climate change from a new perspective
“As I approached the problem, I realized that the world of affiliate marketing and customer loyalty is pretty well developed. Every time you see a banner ad, every time you’re reading a blog post or a news story, and see an ad in a sidebar, if you click that ad, someone is making money. There are commissions being paid all day every day for online consumption,” Michaelson said.
“Consumption has a carbon footprint. When you take a plane flight to go on vacation, it’s not the plane flight that’s the problem; it’s the carbon footprint. We don’t need to throw the baby (consumption) out with the bathwater (carbon footprint), but we need to be carbon neutral in our consumption. To do that, consumers would need to buy the carbon offsets with their purchases. Maybe you have seen these options at checkout when you’re booking a flight. For example, you’re checking out and you’re asked if you want to pay $5 to make your flight carbon neutral. The consumer might want to be carbon neutral, but are unwilling to pay for it. But it might be $5 worth of loyalty for the airline or the travel site. That's where UCapture comes in. We get shopping sites to contribute a portion of your purchase price to carbon offsets, making purchases carbon neutral at no extra cost. For the company, it's green marketing. For the consumer, it's free peace of mind. The customer feels good, and they want to buy from that company again.”
Walking the walk of carbon offsets
Michaelson practices what he preaches – every time he makes a purchase. “As a small business owner, I had to decide where to get my insurance policy,” he said. “So what did I do? I’ went to the Financial Services section on the UCapture website and looked for an insurance company that has partnered with UCapture. I found Hiscox, so that’s where I bought my insurance policy. We were able to offset 6.500 pounds of CO2 by purchasing my small business insurance policy from Hiscox through UCapture. And there was no extra cost to my business.”
Giving the consumer a choice
When a consumer purchases from a UCapture partner, they earncarbon offsets relative to the amount of their purchase. But it’s the consumer, not the company, who gets to choose which carbon offset project to support.
“When users use UCapture to shop at one of our 30,000 online partners, they can support any of our dozens of verified carbon offset projects,” said Michaelson. “These are projects that are independently certified by leading environmental agencies, so there’s a lot of institutional credibility in the environmental impact we’re able to make – for free – when consumers use our technology.”
The path to entrepreneurship
Michaelson may not have set out to become an entrepreneur, but he was concerned about climate change before he even graduated college. “I think I had ambitions around this from the time I was in college. I was working at a bar near the University of Pennsylvania and I ran an event where you’d pay ten bucks at the door and you’d be in for the drink special. We used part of that money to fund a carbon offset project,” he said.
“So that was fun, but it wasn't scalable. So I was still kind of kicking around the idea. I thought, what is a market-based solution, a kind of ‘power to the people’ solution? I started to think about how to reverse engineer some of these other rewards shopping opportunities. I thought, there must be one for carbon offsets – it’s too obvious. I spent probably three days looking for something like UCapture, and I didn’t find it. So I said, ‘Shoot, now I have to build it.’
“It’s an impactful idea. It will make money, save the planet – all of it. I felt kind of a responsibility to build it. You can’t pass an opportunity to save the planet when you see it.”
On innovation and following the lead boat
While UCapture certainly sounds like a revolutionary concept, Michaelson downplays his skills as an innovator.
“I don’t like to give myself too much credit for being an innovator,” Michaelson said. “I think I did a nice job of connecting the dots. It’s about spotting different combinations of existing technologies and piecing them together in a way that hasn’t been done. And that, in itself, is an innovation. What leads you to the opportunity is that there are a lot of other companies to follow. You may be combining the different elements in a new way for the first time, but you can see what they’ve done with their elements.
“I grew up as a sailor, and my sailing master would say, ‘Follow the lead boat. Someday, you’ll pass it.' So you watch the great sailor, you see that company that’s already made it, and they’ve made a great landing page, they’ve made a great email template, and they have great social media. They have figured some things out for you, so don’t reinvent the wheel. Follow that lead boat and piece these things together in your own new way. Innovation is not always about creating something from new cloth – it can be taking things and stitching them together in a way that just hasn’t been done yet.”
Moving the needle on climate change
So, what is the future of UCapture? According to Michaelson, this is just the beginning.
“Six years later, we’ve been fortunate enough to have had some successes and to connect and resonate with consumers as we have,” said Michaelson. “But we still have much more ambition for where we take the platform technologically, as well as scaling from the 30,000 users that we have today, hoping to get to 30 million users, where we’re really moving the needle on climate change and bringing an enormous amount of funding to this global problem.”